Black, white, & grey

Black, white, & grey

A few weeks ago, this tweet popped up in my twitter feed:

“I will never understand why a woman would pay someone to watch her kids while she goes to work at a church.” 

I have strong feelings about this topic, but it’s not suited to a twitter conversation: 140 characters leaves space for pointed replies and rhetorical questions, but not much else. Others rose to take the bait, though. A flurry of tweets followed, mostly denouncing the comment, but one or two applauding.

She quickly followed it up with:

Oops, apparently it’s 2012 and you’re not supposed to say stuff like that anymore.

When I went to capture the screenshots the next day, the tweets had been deleted.

I get a lot of emails from 20- and 30-something women who are trying to find a way to work and to be there for their families. I believe it can be done, and it would be a lot easier for women to figure this thing out if we had more models to look to and less inflammatory rhetoric on the internet (or at playgroup).

Black and white

There used to be–20, 30 years ago–a hard line between work and family. Mothers could join the workforce full-time, or stay home with the kids full-time. Black, and white. Some women were able to find something in the middle–something that combined both, but it was hard to do. 9-5 work was the norm, part-time work was hard to come by, and much work was location-dependent: it needed to be (or was required to be) done on-site in the workplace.

But things have changed radically in the last 20 years. (I’m skimming over the details here, but there’s a whole section devoted to the reasons behind the change in my ebook, out mid-September.) The hard line between work and home is blurring. The workplace has gone grey, and workers–especially women–are custom blending their own shade all the time.

This isn’t true for every workplace, of course, and isn’t possible for some professions. But it’s very possible for much church work, which is a great thing–for women, and for the church.

The trends that matter

A friend of mine dropped out of the workforce after she had her first baby. She quit her full-time church job to stay home with her kids. She’s been active in the church as a volunteer ever since, because she loved what she did there. She’d volunteer during preschool hours or when her husband was home with the kids. Sometimes, she’d even pay a sitter.

Last year, after a 5 year absence, she negotiated a paid part-time position at this same church. She works 20-25 hours per week, doing work that’s important, but not urgent, and doesn’t have to be done at any certain time during the week. She has control over her hours and, to a large degree, her location. During the school year, she works while the kids are at school. When the kids are off, she works from home and tries to schedule her on-site meetings for when her husband’s home with the kids. Her husband has a flexible schedule, too, so this works pretty well most of the time. They hire a sitter to fill in the gaps.

She’s one of many mothers I know who’ve returned to paid church work because they love it, and because their income helps the family bottom line in a dicey economy. They’ve all noted the same trends over the past decade: the dress code’s going casual. Face time isn’t as important. Hours are more flexible. There are more part-time workers. There are a lot more moms among them.

These women’s situations are not unique, and though they work for churches, these trends are widespread across fields. This is happening. The black and white world of working mother vs. stay-at-home mother is giving way to grey.

The new grey

Young women are looking for solutions and they’re looking for models. They don’t need snarky criticism; they need to know about their possibilities. Now there is a whole spectrum of grey available, and many women are finding a point on that continuum that suits them and their families. Writers write because they love to, photographers shoot, runners run. Sometimes they get childcare for these things. If a woman loves to serve in church–and gets paid for it–because that’s where her passion lies, let her do it without criticism.

My friend and I were recently talking about mothering, and work, and how our perspectives had evolved over the years. “I find that newer mothers tend to be more black and white in their ideals,” she said. Her words rang true: when I became a mom at 24, I lacked the experience to have a nuanced view of anything. “More experience lets you understand the grey.”

The workplace is going grey, but because this is still so new, we’re making it up as we go.

Have you noticed this trend? Are you part of it?

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45 comments

  1. Very interesting! I am reading 168 Hours-and she is a proponent of working full time while mothering full time. It is amazing to me how she breaks down the hours, and the time tasks take.
    I have paid a sitter off and on to watch my kids so I could lead a Bible Study. I do a lot in our church that I couldn’t do without the help of others. I think you are putting forward a very workable and practical idea. And as with everything, we need to be extending grace to others.
    I am looking forward to your book.

  2. I know what I envision my life as a wife AND mother (someday) to be…but I don’t know how things will actually turn out.

    I want to be a stay-at-home mom, and “work from home” doing writing. We’ll see. That’s what I keep telling people when they ask what I want to do once I graduate college.

    My mom was in college for seven years. She worked professionally for two years (in church work; she was a Director of Christian Education. My dad is a church music director). Then I was born. Mom stopped getting paid to work in the church, but that didn’t mean she stopped working entirely. She taught Wednesday School (like Sunday school for pre-school aged children), Sunday School, and VBS; she was part of the choir; she was involved in Bible study and now leads a Moms’ Bible study, which she has for over 12 years. And with all that, she was an at-home mom and homeschooled my siblings and me.

    THAT’S what I want to do. I don’t much care about getting paid for doing those ministry things. It would be nice, yes. It would be lovely to get paid to write. But if I could have things my way, that’s how I’d do it.

    We’ll see what God’s way is. 🙂

  3. Deborah Collins says:

    Very early into my first year with my first child, I adopted the mantra “never judge other mothers”. Of course I do some, but I quickly catch myself, and remind myself I don’t know what their day has been like or what their situation is or problems their child may have. And I shouldn’t judge their actions too harshly……as far as the work force, over the summer, I pay a sitter to watch my three kids $10 an hour while I work for $17 an hour. Most would say its crazy. But I do it for a number of reasons. For one, I can do most of my job without a sitter and still be around my kids, so I want to keep my job. Second, even those $7 an hour helps our finances. And third, I do it for me. I need time with other adults and accomplishments that don’t involve how many loads of laundry I did that day. Working makes ME feel better about me. And I noticed I am usually in a better mood on the days I work.

    • Anne says:

      Deborah, I’m constantly reminding myself of the same thing. Thanks so much for sharing your personal experience with working and mothering.

      And maybe some people would think a $7 spread isn’t great, but like you pointed out, there are other reasons to work. But even if there weren’t, the summer–for better or worse–doesn’t last too long.

  4. Missy June says:

    I do feel like I’m in the new paradigm of work/family/personal/public life. It’s been interesting to see how I can carve out the kind of work time and space that is needed for our unique situation. I think that more and more this will become the norm – kind of exciting! No, I don’t think women can have it “all,” but I do think we have more of a voice to speak up about what will work for us. In return, employers gain loyal workers who are proactive about carving out a job description that excites us.

    My specific situation: Single mother of three young children. I work “mommy hours” and come in after the school drop-off. I get off work by 2:30-ish and am able to pick up from school. My baby is in a preschool and extended care. When there are days off school or snow days, a high schooler in the same district comes to play and babysit. For us, this is the best situation.

    I have been with my employer 7 + years and they trust my skill set, are flexible when I have sick little ones and have been proactive in retaining me. I appreciate them and am loyal which is a benefit to all.

    • Anne says:

      Missy June, I’m so thankful for the work situation you’ve found, and am so glad it’s working for your family.

      I think you’re right–it is exciting that this is becoming the norm, but we’re still in the middle of figuring it all out. Hearing stories from women in all kinds of family and work situations provides models that we desperately need. Thanks for sharing your perspective as a single mom of 3.

  5. Katie says:

    Amen! Now if only I could extricate myself from my unhealthy co-dependent work situation and find something more flexible and willing to see the shades of grey…rich old childless men still see the world in black and white. 🙁

    It’s true I used to be very black-and-white about the issue, too. I never wanted to work (still don’t really feel that I have a calling to do anything in particular), always wanted to stay at home full time, as my mother did. I can see and understand more of those shades of gray now.

    One other thing: Churches and schools used to really depend on this network of mom-volunteers who were free during the day. My mom didn’t work, but she volunteered at our (public) school libraries, helped run a mom’s prayer ministry that met each week to pray for and do practical things to support the teachers, was on various committees and did various things at church.

    As this volunteer source dries up because more moms are working, a lot of these things can’t be done anymore or, if they must be done, churches and schools (and other organizations) look to hire part-time help to do them. It’s interesting that the people they’re now paying to do this work are likely the same demographic pool of people who used to do it for free. That’s a great win-win solution, but I do wonder about the things that just couldn’t be done anymore for lack of (wo)manpower–I don’t think our old school has that teacher support ministry anymore, which is too bad.

    • Suzette @ jambalaya says:

      “It’s interesting that the people they’re now paying to do this work are likely the same demographic pool of people who used to do it for free.”

      Great insight!

  6. Rebecca says:

    For me, it’s first — and always — “What role does my husband want me to fulfill in his vision for our family?” Not what will he allow, but what is his desire and vision for our home and family.
    “I just want you to do what makes you happy” is often code for “you are going to make my life miserable until you get your own way, so just do what you want and I’ll go along for the sake of peace.”
    Whether you’re home full time, working full time, or something in between; I feel strongly that a wife’s workload needs to be solidly within the framework of her husband’s vision and direction.

    • Anne says:

      This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes on marriage: “A strong marriage is one in which the husband and wife say to each other, ‘I am highly committed to your growth as a person.’ ”

  7. Tim says:

    “I will never understand why a woman would pay someone to watch her kids while she goes to work at a church.”

    This leads me to come up with other questions:
    What about a woman who volunteers at church while a friend watches the kids for free?
    What about a woman who volunteers at church while paying a babysitter to watche the kids?
    What about a woman who works for pay at a church while a friend watches the kids for free?

    These, along with the original tweeted question, then lead me to just one more question:
    Who cares? This is between her and God (or her and the kids’ dad and God). Sheesh, doesn’t John 21:22 mean anything anymore?

    Cheers,
    Tim

    • Katie says:

      But it would be okay for her to pay someone to watch her kids while she goes to work at somewhere other than a church?

      Yeah, I thought it was sort of an odd comment, too.

      Is the thought that women shouldn’t work? Shouldn’t work at churches? Shouldn’t pay for childcare? Should have free childcare at churches (permanent bring-your-kid-to-work day?) but not at other workplaces? And of course all your points, Tim.

      • Tim says:

        Thanks Katie, I love your additional thoughts. The original question raises a false dichotomy with broader implications than just church employment.

        • Anne says:

          Yes to you both. Excellent questions, Tim and Katie (and the same ones that ran through my head.)

  8. Suzette @ jambalaya says:

    I do think this is one of your best posts. Very interesting to ponder. I am a firm believer in moms staying at home, yet, as you mentioned, at 24 I am a very young mom, on my second child and learning that “grey” doesn’t mean lazy or lack of conviction.

    Grey means that I accommodate according to the needs of me, my spouse, my children and the family as a unit. Grey means that I am willing to bend, learn and BE HUMBLED. Do I think most moms who “need” to work should probably reconsider needs vs wants for their family? Yes. Eating out weekly, a new vehicle every four or six years and week long vacations to a beach condo aren’t needs, especially when you consider the world OUTSIDE of America.

    But I think when sanity (truly), needs and emotions are at stake then work can be perfect. Overall I believe I’d be a better mom if I went back to my college job of flinging coffee for a couple nights a week. Not for monetary reasons, but for my emotional well-being. Part-time work, work at home and flexibility are all so valuable. The following quote is one I love, and I think really pertains to kids, two and under that are being raised 8am-5pm five days a week in a daycare developing relationships with workers who aren’t part of their lives for more than 12 months (Reggio Emilia philosophy of the teacher moving with the child is really appealing here). I think that’s a major disconnect, but daycare in moderation can probably be best for the whole family.

    Anyway, here’s the quote:
    “Oh that God would give every mother a vision of the glory and splendor of the work that is given to her when a babe is place in her bosom to be nursed and trained! Could she have but one glimpse in to the future of that life as it reaches on into eternity; could she look into it’s soul to see its possibilities; could she be made to understand her own personal responsibility for the training of this child, for the development of its life, and for its destiny,–she would see that in all God’s world there is no other work so noble and so worthy of her best powers, and she would commit to no others hands the sacred and holy trust given to her.” -JR Miller

    Thank you for this post.

    • Katie says:

      “Do I think most moms who “need” to work should probably reconsider needs vs wants for their family? Yes. Eating out weekly, a new vehicle every four or six years and week long vacations to a beach condo aren’t needs, especially when you consider the world OUTSIDE of America.”

      Yeah, honey, I wish those were the sorts of “needs” I were looking at here. We’re both working and I’m pregnant with our first child, and the only one on your list we hit right now is eating out regularly. Even with two full-time incomes and no kid expenses yet we don’t make much more than covers groceries, utility bills, and the mortgage (and we’re not living in a mansion or a nice part of town, either).

      We haven’t had a vacation in two years except a family reunion that my family paid for us to attend. His car is paid off and mine almost is and we have no intention of replacing them until they die doornail dead. We don’t wear fancy clothes or have cable, I bought my computer used in 2007, and every single mismatched hideous thing in our mismatched hideous house is secondhand, given to us or bought at a thrift store.

      Trust me. I’ve worked out the spreadsheets and even if we gave up our dogs and the three “luxury” expenses in the budget–one gym membership, cell phone bills (and since we don’t have a home phone and the husband needs a cell for work, that could only be pared back, not eliminated), and the lowest level of internet you can buy–my husband’s salary alone *still* doesn’t cover everything and leave enough to eat for two people, let alone three. Beans and rice and oatmeal, maybe. Which admittedly would be plenty in Haiti but hopefully you can see my hesitation.

      There are some other issues that would be involved with me leaving my current job, and we are trying to think of any other way that we could work stuff out, but right now, staying where I’m at is the best option, even though I don’t think it’s best for the baby and I myself will be absolutely miserable. But that salary would pay for the absolute best daycare in town and cover our bills (though still not leave enough for any beach vacations ^_^), while without it we make too much for food stamps and not enough to pay the bills.

      I used to think the same exact things as you, but I hope I never voiced those opinions aloud because am I ever stuck now. And I know you said “most” and added the disclaimer that some people really *do* need to work, but I know that I never really meant it when I added those same disclaimers to those same thoughts, because I just didn’t really understand.

      So. Just consider that the last thing someone who already hates the situation she’s in needs is a nice big heaping of guilt from a young whippersnapper like you (said with complete irony since I only just turned 26 myself). Anyway. I know you likely didn’t mean it to come across that way, but your comment really struck a nerve. That’s exactly the sort of black-and-white judging we’re trying to avoid.

      And it’s frustrating. Because I agree with you, that sending our baby to daycare is not best for him. But at this point I just. don’t. have. a choice. And when people tell me I should just give up some “wants,” that I’m pampering myself at the expense of my son, that I must not *really* love my baby or want what’s best for him, it makes me very, very angry. We don’t need judgment or finger-pointing or snide remarks. We need solutions. We need change. Which is exactly what Anne’s talking about and it is tremendously encouraging to think that change may be coming.

      • Anne says:

        Katie and Suzette, I wonder if you’ve had the same experience I’ve had: growing up, I always heard (from the pulpit, from financial experts, from mentors) that two incomes weren’t really necessary to support a modest lifestyle.

        I think that one income may do the job in some professions, and in many parts of the country. I do know for my own family, it would be a lot harder to make ends meet on one income now than it would have been 9 years ago when we had our first baby and I subsequently left the workforce completely for a time. The economy is ugly: gas prices are up, groceries are up, health insurance is nuts, real estate is unpredictable. And birth rates are alsoup, which makes the whole thing extra tricky.

        I think sharing our real stories about our real lives helps us understand where other women are coming from, and also helps us figure out what our own work/family negotiation looks like.

        This is an awesome time for women, but it’s also a tough time: because so many opportunities are brand-new, we don’t have a lot of models to look to to show us how it can be done. Let’s be gracious with each other, because we’re all learning together.

        • Katie says:

          Thank you, Anne, and I do apologize for being less than gracious in my reply to you, Suzette.

          No one ever told me two incomes weren’t necessary. But my dad was also an intern from the time I was seven to the time I was seventeen. An *intern*. And a doctoral student. And my mom wasn’t paid in any way, shape, or form, though I hesitate to say she didn’t work, between rearing three kids and a lot of volunteer work. We had basically *no* money to spare, and yet we survived just fine. I just can’t wrap my head around how they did that (the answer, I think, is a lot of credit card debt, and retired Navy benefits (small stipend, free healthcare)).

          My mom definitely did always drive home the point that we gave up having more money (and vacations and new cars and nice clothes and whatever) because it was so important that she stay home with us, and was pretty judgmental herself about moms who reared latchkey kids or sent their kids to full-day kindergartens. Though of course she’s awfully gracious with me now that I’m facing exactly that same prospect. ^_^

          But I don’t recall getting that message from any other angle. Some of my friends’ mothers worked, though most didn’t. And you must remember that Lutherans don’t talk about that sort of thing from the pulpit, and there were lots of women working at the church (secretaries, teachers, youth directors, music directors, etc.) and all of them had small children so I don’t think it came across there at all.

          I just feel like, since the DDH has a “real job” (vs. my student/intern father) we should just be able to make it work, and it makes me so so so mad that somehow we just can’t, but I can’t figure out what else we can cut out. (The problem, truly, is the massive pile of student loans he accumulated after nine years in school. It’s a second mortgage we have to pay each month and we’re still not even keeping up with the interest, which is just depressing. But you can’t just cut out a loan expense the way you could a cable bill, and what’s done is done so far as they’re concerned.)

          Sigh. Anyway. Sorry for snapping your head off, Suzette. I’m just jealous.

          • Anne says:

            Katie, those are fascinating details. Love hearing the story of your childhood, and while I didn’t *love* hearing about the loans, I think that insight into the realities of young post-grads is helpful to a lot of us.

            Thanks for your classy responses, ladies. I love the discussion here, and the gracious tone. I’m so glad to have you both here 🙂

      • Hi Katie!

        I truly meant everything, even when I said “But I think when sanity (truly), needs and emotions are at stake then work can be perfect.” Those weren’t meant to be meaningless disclaimers and I’m so sorry if they came across as that. I have dear family members and friends who HAVE to work, much like you (although all situations differ).

        You are doing what is best for your family and I think that is great!

        I’m not at all trying to press buttons. Overall it is what’s best for you and your family. Clearly you are doing the best you can and that’s awesome!

        So sorry to offend you.

  9. YES! Thank you for speaking to this issue. It’s one that is real in my life.

    I have always had paid employment since becoming a mom 7 years ago. I now have 4 children & have done every sort of creative balancing act to support my family, which for a large part of my marriage, has included a student husband (now an attorney!).

    I used to teach up to 15 fitness classes a week. I liked this because I would teach in the mornings before my kids were up, in the evenings when my husband was at home, & a few days a week, during the day & I hired a sitter to come to my home & care for my kids.

    I’m now only teaching 1 class a week & am a blogger (which takes anywhere from 20-40 hours a week), so my schedule is a bit more flexible, but there’s no way around the time factor. You’ve got to fit the work in there somewhere, & some days the only way I make it all fit is by sleeping less.

    It’s a balancing act for sure, one that I’m not sure I have down, but I have an extremely supportive husband, kids who are independent, responsible & creative, so we all work together to make it work. Some days I feel like I do it “right” or that I strike a good work/family balance. Other days, I feel guilty & think I’ve bombed it, but overall, as long as there’s constant communication between my husband & I, & my kids, life is good.

  10. I think you responded brilliantly, Anne. I can’t wait for everyone to read your ebook. This is must-needed discussion and at the heart of all of it, we must, must, must extend grace to one another. We each must make the decision that’s best for our family. Accordingly, what’s best for one might not be best for another but it doesn’t mean either decision is wrong. We should be grateful to live in a day and age where so many can make these decisions in the first place!

  11. I’m looking forward to your ebook! I do think the world is rapidly changing, and whenever that happens you will always have people that fight the change. I feel for moms that are “stuck” in work situations that they don’t really like. I have friends there, and I know it isn’t all rosy. There are others that are paving a new way, but that too requires ambition, fearlessness, and willingness to break the mold. And sometimes, there aren’t enough funds to warrant the “what if this doesn’t work” scenario. All in all, though, I think this is a situation that should be discussed, and I love hearing people’s stories!

    • Anne says:

      “There are others that are paving a new way, but that too requires ambition, fearlessness, and willingness to break the mold.”

      Yes: I think that’s where we are today. I really think the generation coming after us will not have nearly as difficult a time with blending work and family, because they’ll have so many more examples to look to. But then again, each generation does have it’s own unique challenges…

  12. Yes, thank you for having this conversation!! I wrote about this a while back is a post called Why the SAHM vs. WOHM Debate is Stupid — and Inaccurate. My husband grew up in a home with his parents and his grandmother, and all three of them worked when he and his brother were in school, but his grandmother got done with work in time to be home with them after school. All of the inflammatory debates that pin stay-at-home parents again those who work outside completely ignore the reality of families who don’t fit a clear-cut mold. I think perhaps it’s easier to insist that your way of parenting/living is the right way when you frame it as a choice between two options. When there are infinite options, what is the likelihood that your specific situation is the right one for everyone?

    You are right on that people need to know what those options are. We’d always planned to have my husband stay home with our kids, but now that we’re getting closer to being ready to adopt (which has an unknown time frame) and he’s locked into a university contract as a residence hall director, we’ve needed to expand our idea of what our childcare will look like. Debates about the “right” choice are not what we need — we need some ideas about what’s been done before, what our options are. Thank you again for your great post!

    • Anne says:

      Jessica, I just read your post, which was excellent. I think (from that post and others you’ve written) that we’re a lot alike in that we embrace complexity. No wonder I like your writing so much!

      And 1000 yeses to this: “When there are infinite options, what is the likelihood that your specific situation is the right one for everyone?”

  13. Can’t wait to read your ebook. So looking forward to it. SAHM is not an end all. Doing what is best for your whole family is what is important, and that changes during different seasons of life.

  14. Sarah says:

    Wow. I love the conversation you’ve sparked here, Anne…it’s one that hits home for so many of us. It’s such a challenge to find that balance between working and being a mother!

    As a single mother of one child, I’ve navigated a course similar to my own mother’s as I was growing up. While I don’t have the option/luxury of working from home (since I’m in healthcare), I’ve been able to work part time since my daughter was born 7 years ago. Initially I worked only 3 days a week, and then 4 days a week, and currently work 5 days a week, although they are shorter days, allowing me to drop off and pick up during the school year. I tried working the 5 days, 40+ hrs a week for a brief time but I just couldn’t manage it and am blessed to pull enough income with fewer hours to make ends meet. I have to confess though – things are definitely tight…I feel Katie’s pain with the grad school loans…they are eating away at my paychecks and will likely continue to do so for most of my career.

    Now as I look to the future and am happily dating the man of my dreams with hopes of more children someday, it saddens me that I will be forced to continue working because of financial burdens rather than be the stay-at-home mom I long to be. But I’ll burn that bridge when I get there and will keep working on mapping out the gray area for me and my family…whatever that may look like…

    • Anne says:

      Sarah, thanks so much for sharing these thoughts here and what your personal experience has been like as a single parent. I loved the post you wrote on your own blog about the balancing act, thanks for sharing the details here so other women can know how things are playing out for your family.

      I’m so happy for you and your guy 🙂

      I’ll share that link so others can find it: http://theoneandlonelyparent.blogspot.com/2012/06/balancing-act.html

  15. Heather says:

    Anne, I love how you’re not afraid to bring up tough topics and have an honest discussion/ debate! I’m not in your demographic – born in 1967 – but my kids are relatively young at 10 and 12. My mom was a teacher and stayed home until my brother and I started school. She was there for us when we came home and there for summer vacation. It worked beautifully and we never needed daycare. I thought I’d do something similar when my kids were born, but I life happens. 😉

    I did stay home until my kids started school. I’m thankful God provided for our needs (some years on support overseas), but I’ve learned not to judge those who choose to or must do differently. My husband and I currently volunteer full-time for a British charity in Central Asia. I go to the office 4 days a week when the boys are in school and work one day from home, so I can do laundry while working via computer. The summer has been challenging, but my wonderfully supportive husband takes turns with me in going to the office. We can both do most of our work remotely, when necessary. It works out great for us, and the whole family knows that I’m a much happier and better mom because of my time outside the home! (said by a true extrovert) Amazingly, my mom was my biggest cheerleader in working outside the home. She knows me better than anyone.

    The years at home when the kids were little were very tough on me. We lived in a more remote location overseas, and I just didn’t have enough interaction with other English-speaking western adults. I really wanted to be happy staying home but truly only endured it. That’s not good for anybody in the family. It may have been different if we’d been in the U.S. I’m so glad to hear that more moms are choosing to work part-time rather than being a mom that nobody wants to be around. We need to be honest that we’re not all cut out for that. Maybe it’s personality-type, maybe it’s skill set. Bottom-line – we’ve just got to stop judging and start loving and encouraging each other despite the choices we’ve made re: the SAHM debate. Moms live with enough guilt.

    Thanks for bringing up this difficult topic.

    • Anne says:

      Heather, thanks so much for your thoughts on this. I think you of all people would know something about being flexible to meet your current situation, and it’s interesting to see this little window of what your life is like right now.

      Your bottom line nails it: “We’ve just got to stop judging and start loving and encouraging each other despite the choices we’ve made re: the SAHM debate. Moms live with enough guilt.”

      Yes they do! Thanks for sharing some encouraging words here.

  16. Stephanie says:

    Great post Anne. I definitely appreciate the grey way of being a mother. I have three children aged from 4 to 8. I have a business which I am able to run from home. I also work 2 days a week at a college, for only a couple of hours per day. While I am there, my mum minds my son. I have done this since my first daughter was born. I realise how lucky I am, having the best of both worlds. If I didn’t have my business, or if I didn’t have my mum to care for my children, I would probably need a completely different arrangement. Nothing is ever clear cut, everyone’s situation is different and everyone is doing the best they can.

  17. Kristy says:

    Great post. I am not a mother yet (I hope to be one day, Lord willing) but one thing I have learned over the years is this…Don’t be so quick to judge a situation! Things look a whole lot different from the inside!…What works for one family may not work for another but I do believe that if the parents are loving and involved in their children’s lives they will turn out just fine! =)

  18. asithi says:

    I am surrounded by working mothers, myself included. I work 32 hours a week. While it is technically part-time, I still have the same responsibilities as before. I just work more efficiently during the time when I am at work. I come in at 6am and pick up the toddler by 3pm. My husband works a little later, so the toddler only spends 7 hours at daycare for 4 days a week.

    This schedule works for us because after 3 days of being mom full time, I need the break and adult social interaction of working. There is nothing wrong with being a mom full time, but it is not for me. I don’t love my child any less than moms that stay home. Besides, it is kind of nice to have someone else do the majority of the feeding and entertaining, so that I still have plenty of energy for the active toddler when I get home.

    I was really nervous about daycare myself. But when you find the right daycare with teachers that click with you, it is not so bad. My toddler is the only child in my extended family. This means she gets no social interaction with children her age outside the playground if she is not in daycare. Sure, she picks up some questionable habits from daycare, but I have 3 days to de-program her. And she picks up some good habits too.

    Living in California, you cannot make it on one salary unless your husband makes over $100,000 (and even then it is tight with no savings for retirement or college and a tiny home in a bad neighborhood). So yes, I need to work. Not because I want an expensive car, but because I want my child to go to college and my husband to retire someday. Oh, and it is nice to have some new stuff as an adult since all I had as a child was hand me downs or from the thrift shop.

    I have had moms make me feel like my child is not important to me. But what they do not understand is that my husband is important to me too. I work in a pre-dominantly male field. Do you know how many male co-workers have told me how stressful it is to be the primary breadwinner in the family? They all seems to think it is great that I am able to work because some women just can’t after having a child (they are just too emotionally wrapped up with the baby and it is great their husband can financial support that).

    I cannot put our entire financial responsibility on my husband. That would not be fair. Neither would it be fair for my husband to put the entire household responsibility on me. This is why I don’t grocery shop or cook. Even the toddler helps with household chores. She “helps” load/unload the laundry and groceries (I strongly believe in child labor).

  19. 'Becca says:

    Nice article! I agree that there are more shades of grey than there used to be, with the option of working online, but it seems to me that 20-30 years ago many mothers worked part-time. I grew up in a company town where the company employed mostly men and most families were in that town because of the father’s employment with the company. I did know some mothers who also worked full-time for the company, but for the most part mothers who had paying jobs had one of these jobs:
    *teacher (same hours and vacation days as their kids)
    *nurse (working shifts during the school day or when father was at home)
    *retail (working shifts during the school day or when father was at home)
    *childcare, teaching music lessons, sewing, or other work done at home.
    I remember one mother who worked as a church secretary; the church’s office was open 9:30-3:00 because the school day was 9:00-3:30. Like many churches, that one couldn’t afford full-time office staff anyway, so it worked out well for her.

    My own mother was “at home” (but doing a lot of volunteer work) until I was 11. Then she got a job that involved a lot of travel. I was a kid who got sick pretty often. My father, who by that point had been with the company long enough to get a lot of paid time off each year, would take off work when I had to come home sick from school and when I had to go to the doctor. On days when I was staying home all day, he’d come home for a long lunch break. My friends whose mothers worked retail also tended to have their dads involved when they were sick because their moms’ hours were strict, whereas dads with white-collar jobs could more easily call off.

    What I see as the real increase in grey is that more dads of our generation are seeking part-time and work-at-home and flexible options so they can be more involved with their kids. The options that have been open to moms in traditionally female careers for decades are now becoming more prevalent for both genders in more types of work.

    I work full-time in an office. When my son was 0-4 years old, I worked 20-30 hours a week. He’s 7 now. When he was a baby, my job was very much the lower-earning one, just paying for insurance and childcare, while his father was the main breadwinner. But his father has had two long periods of unemployment since he was born, and I have been the steady breadwinner all along, getting several raises over the years as well as increasing my hours. It exasperates me when people question whether I “have to” work, seeming to take for granted that having a father in a family means having one stable full-time salary from him! Not all fathers are that fortunate with their careers. Some fathers work for, say, software start-up companies that pay well but don’t offer health insurance; it’s MY job that insures us at a “reasonable” rate compared to many. It’s true that there have been periods when we didn’t “have to” have my income to pay our bills, but during those times we were saving money, some of which we use to pay bills when he’s unemployed. (Actually, most of our withdrawals from savings have been to pay for home improvements while he’s unemployed, while still keeping up with all our other bills–it’s a lot easier to get work done on the house when someone’s home to keep an eye on it and answer questions!) I like my job, and I’m the kind of person who is a better mom when I spend some time apart from my child, but it’s also important financially.

    Furthermore, having my income means that my partner can be more flexible about his career. If he were our only source of support, he would have to take a job, any job, as soon as possible. Because of my income, he can search longer to find a job that really suits him well or (as he’s doing now) learn new skills that may lead to self-employment. (He’s learning to write iPad apps.) I get frustrated when I read that a good woman must support her husband in his career by doing all the housework and childcare and that’s the only right way–we feel that I am supporting his career by earning money while he tries to take his career in the direction he most wants it to go. However, while I am out of the house nine hours a day earning our entire income, I expect that HE support MY career by doing some of the housework and childcare. It is a balancing act that’s more complicated, and takes more negotiation and re-evaluation, than a traditional “separate spheres” model, but it works for us!

    • asithi says:

      I have to agree with Becca. I’ve always had the stable job and was the breadwinner prior to changing to a part-time schedule. While my husband is working hard, he is still at the infancy of his career. If someone has to stay home to take care of the toddler full time, it would make financial sense for him to do so. But since that is not his inclination and he cannot support the family on his salary, we make do with the schedule we have. I get frustrated with the “old guard” (the older women in the family, especially from his side of the family) suggesting that my husband is working too hard and I do not make enough of an effort to keep my house clean.

  20. Jessica says:

    I’m delighted to read about this <> It has been and still is a balancing issue for all my adult life especially during my child’s younger years. In retrospect, I regret that I worked full-time when she was in daycare, I used to miss her during the day. When she was in school I used to reassure myself that I am doing the right thing she must be in school etc… its for her good. We spent lot of time together on the weekends and holidays but I remember at that time I did not feel the importance as much as I feel right now when she is in college. The need to work will be there all the time in one’s life but a child is a child only once………so grey is refreshing……

  21. Cathy says:

    I have worked part time since I was married. Our children are 19, 17, and 12. In the early years of motherhood, I didn’t know any working moms. I was so ashamed of working that the kids and I rarely left the house on my days off during the week. (My introverted way to pretend I was a SAHM.) I never admitted to others that I worked without qualifying it by reinforcing that “it’s only part time.” Well meaning family members made hurtful comments about what my husband and I decided would work for our family. It makes me so sad now to think of the guilt I carried in the midst of that beautiful time, and for so long after.
    With the range in my kids ages, I have the chance to see changes in my community. I find that I know many more working-out-of-the-home moms now. I find more support among the moms in our church community now. My younger sibling has thanked me for forging the path…he and his wife receive much less criticism from family members about their choices.
    I’ve learned, too, that when my husband and I approach our decisions together, with prayer, I can more easily brush off the worries of what other people think and trust in God’s plan for our family, as it slowly unfolds.
    Thank you for the opportunity to share! Blessings to everyone.

  22. Melane Howell says:

    This is not going to be a popular comment. I am a single mom with 4 kids, and no, I have never received public assistance. Yes, times have changed. Yes, women want choices I think we are skipping the point. When asked, many children would give up material possessions in exchange for more time with a parent. I see these videos on YouTube frequently. Quality time vs quantity of time? Kids need both. They need to know that you are present, that family meals are important, that play time doesn’t have to be scheduled because there is a lot of free time to just “play” with mud or tape or paper or sand. Mom’s not happy or “fulfilled”? Too bad. It’s not only about mom these days. Most times what is best for the family unit is not what is most convenient or easy for the individual. Enjoy the struggles, laugh quietly at the tantrums, sigh at the sight of another meal of cheap Mac n cheese, because time with the “littles” will fly by and you can pick up with your career where you left off. Make working a flex schedule or from home a necessity, because your children won’t stop growing, even if you beg.

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